on March 4, 2000
Thanks for the messages from Joel Blutfield and Joan Gilbert. I interpret
their concern as about how to encourage teachers to start to change both
practices and beliefs. Our experience in UK has been to offer a few tactics
- ideas such as those listed in the bullet points near the end of my talk
(see the Resources section), and particularly those which help the students
to have a stronger voice. We have found that once teachers make a modest
start down this road, the more active involvement of the students serves
both to encourage them and to open their eyes - to how willing their
students are to have their ideas taken seriously, and to the new lessons
they learn aboout their students thinking.
Thanks to Richard Mathews for the list of sources for good questions. I
think it might be helpful to share such information (with access details),
so others can access them. It would also help to share and so clarify our
ideas of quality - what makes a good question. This could be explored if
people could offer (say) just one favourite example with an explanation of
why it works well. Some questions, when tried with students, produce replies
which really show up their needs in concept thinking. My example is from
Lillian McDermott's work which she used at the conference. My memory of her
question is that it set out three electric circuits each with a battery
connected to (1) one bulb (2) two bulbs in series (3) two bulbs in parallel.
The task was to put the bulbs in order of expected brightness and explain
why (assuming identical bulbs and a perfect battery). This is a taxing
question - surprisingly - at all levels up to graduate students. It is the
demand for qualitative explanation (not numerical calculations) which
exposes basic misconceptions about current being used up, about batteries
providing a fixed current only, which has to be shared for parallel arms,
and so on. This is a really revealing question and can provoke rich peer
discussion. So I put it here as my current favourite - what's yours ?
Richard mentions searching for an external summative evaluation. I'm not
clear whether he means a program evaluation or a test of the students'
understanding. If it is the latter, I come back with a question: cna one
bring in a ready-made test from outside for summative purposes, or does one
have to craft one which will match with and reinforce the formative practice?